Tips for Active/Critical Reading

By: Avery Erskine

When you’re reading all the time for class, it can be easy to find your eyes moving over words without really comprehending anything on the page. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your class readings.

Note: These tips work best for academic and other non-fiction articles, not works of fiction.

While You’re Reading

Notice the Title and Headings: Sometimes authors can meander around the point a little bit. Looking at the paper’s title and headings can be helpful when trying to discern the focus of the text. This can also help when determining what to highlight.

  • Tip: If you’re taking bulleted/outline notes on the text, headings can help point out when to start a new bullet.

Highlight: Some sentences will stand out as thesis statements or main points. Make sure these quotes are easy to spot by highlighting or underlining. This will stop you from having to read the entire text again when looking back on it to study or to write a paper.

  • Tip: Authors will often start a thesis statement with “In this essay I will…” (or something to that effect) and/or put that statement near the end of their introduction. This isn’t always the case, but it’s helpful when you’re struggling to find the thesis.

Take Notes: Write down your reactions to the text as you read. This could happen in the margins or on a separate piece of paper. Do you disagree with a point? Write that down. Did you laugh? Write that down. Are you confused by what the author is trying to say? Write that down. Not only will this help when you’re looking back at the text later, but it also helps you stay present with the text while you’re reading it.

  • Tip: These notes don’t have to be super academic — have fun with it! If something like “wtf” is helpful to you, include it.

After You Read: Fun, Funky, Fresh

When you’re done reading, take a minute or two to answer the questions below. This helps you move beyond just understanding the paper’s arguments and helps you think critically about what you just read.

  • Fun: What did you like about the text? Why? This could be the author’s research methodology, their writing style, a specific paragraph, anything.

  • Funky: What didn’t you like about the text? Why?

  • Fresh: What is something new you learned from the text? What about this text have you not seen before?

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